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Friday, October 18, 2013

Talented and Energetic Cast Overcome Slender Plot to Make “The Addams Family” Entertaining

The cast of The Addams Family. Photo – Broadway in Louisville.


The Addams Family
Book by Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice
Music & Lyrics by Andrew Lippa
Directed by Jerry Zaks

Review by Kathi E.B. Ellis.

Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Kathi E.B. Ellis. All rights reserved.

“Full Disclosure” – Not having grown up in this country, The Addams Family (television, movies, musical) is not a cultural reference point for me. I do, of course, recognize the theme song and most of the characters, thanks to commercials and trailers. But that’s it. On the other hand, I have now seen this production twice: once on Tuesday at Whitney Hall, opening night of the Broadway in Louisville engagement; and, earlier this year, in Lexington’s jewel of an intimate opera house.

The show brings together again the creative team for Jersey Boys, seen here in 2012 (Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, book; and Sergio Trujillo, choreography), plus Andrew Lippa (music and lyrics). This production appears to rely on the idea of “the Addams family” – that if characters look and sound like the originals, audiences will like it. The songs are either a pastiche of musical theatre or derivative – and whichever might be the case, not strong enough to raise the production above the threads of a storyline; although the performers’ commitment to the characters and situations does lift the material, as does the energetic orchestra under the leadership of Nolan Bonvouloir. The choreography is not as compelling as either of Mr. Trujillo’s Memphis or Flashback (both seen here in Louisville within the last year).

The audience was delighted with the familiar opening chords of The Addams Family theme music – the only time that we explicitly heard this until the curtain call at the end of the evening. Visually, the production captures the world of The Addams Family, echoing both the television series and the movie. Even casual viewers would recognize the key members of the Addams household through excellent wigs, make-up and costumes, while the scenic elements capture the kookiness of the original. The family has also been reinforced by an ensemble of ancestors, from various historic periods, whose presence does little to advance the slender plot. The ten ensemble performers fill the stage with energy, from zomboid to frenetic, which engages the audience during those musical numbers.

The primary characters are both instantly recognizable and specifically different from the original. Most strikingly, the daughter, Wednesday (Jennifer Fogarty), is miraculously a teenager – with a boyfriend – the plot point that drives the evening’s story. The Gomez of both movie and musical (Jesse Sharp in this iteration) is now discernibly Latino, unlike John Astin in the television series. Younger brother Pugsley (Connor Barth) is also older than his original incarnation. 

Mr. Sharp brings an oversize presence to the production that is immediately charming. His improv and comedy background clearly serve him well, as Gomez flips back and forth trying to please Morticia and Wednesday and not get into hot water. Keleen Snowgren’s Morticia is appropriately mordant and powerful – though the role is maybe a little too PC to be absolutely in the spirit of the original. Ms. Fogarty’s Wednesday is a petite dynamo determined to get her guy as well as torment brother Pugsley; Mr. Barth brings a delightfully pugnacious attitude to his role. Grandma (Amanda Bruton) and Fester (Shaun Rice) are solidly in the world of the original; while at the same time Fester’s quest for the moon, “The Moon and Me,” catapults the production into an overtly theatrical mode with puppets and special effects – a number both charming and not in sync with the world of the rest of the production. Dan Olson’s Lurch is a somber, wittily subversive combination of awkwardly dislocated perambulations and, at one point, a surprisingly fluid sequence following in the tradition of Dick Van Dyke. The Beinecke family, whose son is Wednesday’s boyfriend, provides an apparently middle-American foil to the Addams’ weirdness. We discover that love-interest Lucas (Bryan Welnicki) takes a keen interest in things morbid, that apple-pie mom Alice (Blair Anderson) can let down her hair in ways that only embarrass teenage sons, and that solid dad Mal (Mark Poppleton) has an aging hippie side waiting to escape.

There’s a whole lot of production in this show, and not much plot. This energetic and appealing company of young performers put a whole lot of heart and talent into a vehicle that ultimately isn’t quite as good as they are.

The Addams Family
October 15-20, 2013
PNC Broadway in Louisville
The Kentucky Center
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
502-584-7777

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